SOUTH LOS ANGELES ( — The Century Youth Activities League Center reopened Monday in South Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Sheriff’s Dept. Capt. Ernie Chavez and the LA84 Foundation rededicated the center, which is located at 7901 S. Compton Ave., at 10 a.m.

“My favorite thing is this soccer area!” Miguel Sanchez, 8, said. “My mom wants us to exercise and this is a great place to do it.”

Sanchez is one of 350 young people from the Florence-Firestone area signed up to participate in the free summer programs through the main center, sports complex and its nearby boxing center.

The Century Station Youth Activity League (YAL) Program represents a safe haven for kids, giving them a place for everything from much-needed help with homework, a place to shoot some hoops or learn a new sport without fear of physical violence or becoming tangled up in many of the other negative distractions the streets have to offer.

“Florence-Firestone reputation is there’s a lot of gangs. Children are exposed to a lot of violence out here, so a center like this keeps them away from all of that,” part-time worker Juan Barrag said.

Thanks to a $130,000 grant from LA84 Foundation, the former sheriff’s station traded in its parking lot for two regulation-size basketball courts and a half-size soccer field for the new sports complex, that was completed in May.

In the center there is a new computer room and media center courtesy of Best Buy and Ronald McDonald charities. A beauty room was also opened for counselors to talk to young people about the importance of being beautiful inside and out.

“A lot of girls didn’t have self-esteem. They didn’t think they were beautiful,” LA Co. Sheriff’s Dept. Sgt. Veronica De La Rosa said.

Through grants and donations the program is free and provides lunch and dinner to participants.

“Believe it or not, some of these kids don’t eat that much a day,” Capt. Ernie Chavez said.

The Youth Activities League isn’t just about giving kids a safe place to go, it also is about showing them something different.

“We take them to amusement parks, hiking, the river, museums, art — different things outside the box,” De La Rosa said.

Century Station YAL is one of the busiest of the 17 Youth Activities Leagues in LA County.

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